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Parlour Exclusive: Terrance Dean on “Hiding In Hip-Hop”

Terrance Dean does not want to be defined as the gay male version of Karrine “Superhead” Steffans, nor does he want to be classified as a man on a witch hunt. Instead, Dean, the author of HIDING IN HIP-HOP: Confessions of a Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry dropping May 13, aims to give a voice to gay men imprisoned by their sexuality and employment. Fortunately for Parlour, he’s also doling out tips on how to make sure you’re not the woman left singing a sad Terry McMillan song.

PARLOUR: Why did you want to write this book? After Karrine “Superhead” Steffans, why bring on the backlash?

Terrance Dean: I wrote this book before Superhead’s came out. I’d put it on the shelf because this is my memoir about what I’ve experienced in my life. I didn’t care what the Hollywood or Hip-Hop industry thought of the book, I just worried what my family thought.

I lost my mother and brothers to AIDS. My mother was a prostitute and a heroin addict, and she developed the AIDS virus. She got pregnant and passed it along to my baby brother, so they both died during my senior year of college. My mother wasn’t able to care for us and my siblings and I were split up as kids. I was sent to my grandmother and my other brother George living with my Grandmother and I. But he became such a handful because like the rest of us, he was always questioning-‘where’s mom?’ and ‘why did she abandon us?’ So he went to a group home, and at 19 we found out that he’d been infected with the AIDS virus while he was in a group home. I hadn’t talked about any of these things with my friends, so I was most concerned with that. A lot of people assume that I’ve had this great life and this great career since I worked at MTV Networks as a writer, but they don’t know what I had to go through to get to where I am.

I wanted to create a voice because for so long I felt like I didn’t have one. I had no self-worth because I didn’t come from anything and I couldn’t understand why all of these things were happening to me, like losing my mother and two brothers to AIDS. I also wanted to give a voice to black women because of the increasing rise of AIDS, that’s my mother’s story. And there are so many women that are infected, while in heterosexual relationships, with men that are leading double lives. They don’t know what their man is doing. I’ve met so many guys that have girls at home. It’s to the point that I’m like ‘if he tells me he has a girlfriend, I’m going to shoot myself!’ Every dude you meet says ‘I got a girl, so you can’t call the house…”

P: Have the numbers of down low men increased over the years?

TD: Oh yeah! At first I thought it was just me, but then I met more men like me that were down low initially also and they told me their experiences. Even as an openly gay man, I still meet many down low men. It’s not just hip-hop, it’s corporate America, government, pastors, ministers, it’s like an epidemic. I think the down low culture is so rampant because we’re afraid to talk about sexuality in our culture.

P: Why do you think minorities don’t want to address homosexuality?

TD: Most of us grew up in very homophobic environments, or in the church. The black family is synonymous with the black church and ministers have a strong hold on the black community. If you grow up hearing that homosexuality is a sin, you’re struggling you’re your sexuality and you can’t talk to their parents, who can you talk to?

I know many men who have been sexually assaulted, like me, and that experience traumatized them. It’s interesting because they’ve said that they never talked about it. Who can you turn to without feeling like ‘Am I gay?’ ‘Does this make me gay?’ Most men that have been molested aren’t gay, but they just don’t know how to handle that experience.

P: Why do you think ethnic cultures consider homosexuality to be such a taboo? Like with sports, common sense/published data says that if numerous men work together at least a small fraction of them must be gay…

TD: Hip-hop represents a masculine, heterosexual image. If you look at album covers, every male artist is pictured with his car, his chain and a group of women around him. Of course, he’s bare-chested, showing that he’s the man. We model our masculinity after material success instead of the real definition of manhood, like serving the community. In hip-hop, as I talk about it in my book, it’s a badge of honor to say ‘I dropped out of school to sell drugs, I’ve been in and out of jail, I’ve been shot, but look at me now, I’m in the game and I’m doing my thing.’ But you sold drugs to your own community…where’s the pride in that?

P: Are you nervous about the inevitable backlash? People still want to assault Superhead in public…

TD: I’m not afraid of the backlash because the wonderful thing is sparking a discussion. Someone will ask, ‘Why can’t an artist come out and be gay in hip-hop?’ I have come across white men in entertainment that are flamboyantly gay and it’s not a problem, their community accepts them. Black people really need to get over it!

This memoir is telling my truth. Had I been in government, or a minister or a teacher, I would’ve written the same book. It just so happened that hip-hop played the background.

P: Can you give us who, or hints to who, is mentioned in the memoir? Come on, one or two juicy bits…

TD: I don’t name any names in the book. There are no names of any celebrities that are living double lives, or that I’ve been with sexually in the book.

P: Why not?

TD: Naming celebrities is not why I wrote the book. I wrote it to give a voice to the many young people that have experienced the life I lived. Losing their parents to drugs, living in the foster care system, or out of communication with their parents. We live in a very “me” society, so that’s why I wrote the book.

P: Are you describing some of the down low parties you attended?

TD: You want these names, but I’m not giving you any names! **laughs** I have been to a lot of down low parties and down low sex parties where celebrities have been in attendance. It’s a shock for people outside of the industry, but when you do it, it’s like getting up and going to work everyday. It’s routine and doesn’t shock me anymore.

P: When did you come out?

TD: It was like 2001, I told my grandmother. I had gay friends in 1999-2000, but it became real for my family, as I mention in the book, unintentionally. I was talking to my grandmother and was so into telling her this story that I said, “you know being a black gay man” and I stopped myself. I looked at her, and she said, “Baby ain’t no problem, I already know.” I felt so much better.

P: Did your publisher pressure you to name names?

TD: No, they love that I didn’t name names because they understood the story. They were so caught up in the story that it became irrelevant. I had girlfriends who cheated and lied to me, I just described the struggle of a typical minority that comes from the inner-city and is struggling to find their fit in society. Don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to make it.

P: Since most of our readers are women, can you share some tips on raising their awareness concerning their men and homosexuality? What would you tell them to look for?

TD: Women ask me “how can I tell” all the time. There is no code word or identifying color but women can start asking questions. I’ve been introduced to lots of women by a guy that I’m dating who introduced me as his friend to his girlfriend. “This is my boy, we’re mad cool. He’s just visiting or hanging out.”

When you get introduced to someone that you’ve never heard of before, and then he just disappears, start asking questions. If your man has been in and out of prison or done long stints in prison like two to five years or more, start asking questions. Down low men have become savvier since J.L. King’s book “On The Down Low,” because women have become savvier. If he has another cell phone that you’re not aware of, that’s cause for suspicion. If he has multiple online accounts, I’d be leery of that.

In the book, I talk about an experience a girlfriend of mine had. Her man wanted her to put her finger in his behind during sex. She asked me, “Do you think he’s gay?” I said, “No, that’s an erogenous zone for men.” Then she said, “Well, he also asked me to put my dildo in him.” I said, “He’s definitely gay. What man is going to wake up one day and ask, can you put your dildo in me?” But because he was so masculine, she couldn’t fathom him being gay. She just thought maybe it was just a sexual fetish, but there are many women who are in denial about their man’s sexuality because they’ve been in a relationship for years. I know a lot of women who say “I know my man’s not gay,” but then he’s the first one in the bed with his legs out.

One guy I talk about in the book told me, “just because you’re fucking me don’t mean I’m no bitch.” I said, “Ok, just turn over.” But it was his way of letting me know that he was still a man and still hood.

P: Are there any places where there are higher concentrations of down low men?

TD: Anywhere in the American south, it’s the Bible-Belt. There are more churches and many men are not out with their sexuality. I think being down low is more prevalent there because they’re being pressured to have girlfriend, a wife and kids. There are a lot of down low men in NYC but being gay is just more free and acceptable here.

P: Any countries you felt had more down low men?

TD: I’m not talking about those places. That’s for the next book because I still have to go to those places. **laughs**

P: Any hip-hoppers that are down low and have songs playing on the radio right now?

TD: Yes.

P: Do their entourages know about it and just ignore it?

TD: In hip-hop, this is a well-known subculture. Everyone knows about it, but no one talks about it.

P: What’s the one thing you’d like to tell your readers?

TD: You do have power. You can raise your voice and be heard, despite the challenges you’ve endured. It’s important to dialogue about HIV and AIDS not just with black women, but with black teens. The Center for Disease Control numbers in Brooklyn and Harlem alone are shocking. Black women should question their men, if they’re suspicious of their sexual behavior, and don’t be afraid to leave if his answers aren’t satisfying. Also, it’s time for black gay men in hip-hop come together. We’re the stylists, producers, song-writers, accountants, tour managers, we help make a lot of these artists careers. We need to make our voices heard.

HIDING IN HIP-HOP: Confessions of a Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry hits shelves on May 13 via Atria Books. Check out Mr. Dean’s book at www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and his blog, www.terrancedean.blogspot.com.

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